Guru Magazine - - Contents -

When the Guru team took the ‘Friends Per­son­al­ity Test’, Na­ture Guru Au­tumn Sar­tain turned out to be most like Rachel. Sur­pris­ingly, Deputy Edi­tor Ross is a bit of a Phoebe. Colum­nist Leila Wild­smith gives her take on whether we should bother with per­son­al­ity tests at all. (She’s such a Chan­dler…)

Is it just me, or have you no­ticed the re­cent in­crease in the num­ber of quizzes avail­able on­line? One that has been do­ing the rounds on Face­book is the test that re­veals the fa­mous per­son­al­ity you are most like. With just a few sim­ple ques­tions, you can dis­cover your se­cret rock god or movie star iden­tity. While I’m sure not many of us take these per­son­al­ity tests se­ri­ously – I don’t re­ally bear much re­sem­blance to an espresso, as one such quiz sug­gested – their seem­ing pop­u­lar­ity sug­gests a cul­tural and gen­er­a­tional iden­tity cri­sis. In the past, with­out quizzes or tests to de­ter­mine per­son­al­ity, people were forced to look in­side them­selves – or to their fam­ily, friends or job – for their iden­tity. They may not have liked what they found, but at least they knew who they were. But our me­dia-driven world ex­poses us to an in­creas­ingly end­less ar­ray of per­son­al­i­ties, which can leave us in­creas­ingly un­aware of who we re­ally are. Ken­dra Cherry, au­thor of The Ev­ery­thing Psy­chol­ogy Book, as­serts that “In to­day’s rapidly chang­ing world, iden­tity crises are more com­mon”. Ac­cord­ing to her, many of us are ask­ing, as Shake­speare’s tragic hero King Lear did, “Who is it that can tell me who I am?” An iden­tity cri­sis isn’t al­ways a bad thing though. The word ‘ cri­sis’ has its roots in the Greek word for ‘ de­ci­sion’ and sug­gests a sig­nif­i­cant turn­ing point or a de­ci­sive mo­ment. We all have defin­ing mo­ments – points that in some way af­fect our iden­tity. In ad­di­tion, as­sess­ing our­selves and try­ing to de­fine who we are is an es­sen­tial part of hu­man de­vel­op­ment. Pro­fes­sor Su­san Krauss Whit­bourne writes in her on­line ar­ti­cle ‘Are you hav­ing an iden­tity cri­sis?’ that “an iden­tity ‘cri­sis’ may oc­cur any time [when] you’re faced with a chal­lenge to your sense of self.” Fur­ther­more, the fa­mous devel­op­men­tal psy­chol­o­gist, Erik Erik­son, be­lieved crises to be per­fectly nor­mal. He de­fined sev­eral stages of ‘cri­sis’ that oc­cur in life, in­clud­ing a ‘ Who am I?’ con­flict in ado­les­cence, and the ques­tion of ‘ Will I be loved or will I be alone?’ in young adult­hood. Tak­ing time to eval­u­ate our val­ues, our likes and dis­likes, our skills and our be­liefs is an im­por­tant process. But it can be­come a prob­lem when quizzes and tests of­fer us an op­por­tu­nity to as­sess our­selves on a daily ba­sis. Of course, we don’t have to par­take in any of them, but when ev­ery­one else seems to be do­ing it, it be­comes ir­re­sistible. And in mea­sur­ing our­selves in this way, it can be all too easy to lose our sense of self. Im­por­tantly, it seems that the ac­tual iden­tity to which we com­mit to is

not as sig­nif­i­cant as the act of com­mit­ting: Cherry writes, “Re­searchers have found that those who have made a strong com­mit­ment to an iden­tity tend to be hap­pier and health­ier than those who have not.” I have taken sev­eral of these quizzes (strictly for re­search pur­poses, of course). Whilst I am pleased to dis­cover that I have an affin­ity with one of my child­hood hero­ines – Dis­ney’s Lit­tle Mermaid, Aerial – I was less than ex­cited by the re­sults of one Down­ton Abbey char­ac­ter quiz that re­vealed I am most like the “jeal­ous, over­looked” mid­dle sis­ter, Edith. Nei­ther am I de­lighted by the Friends char­ac­ter quiz, which told me that I am most like a man. The prob­lem with these quizzes is that they don’t af­firm our true iden­tity: even the re­sults that I’m pleased with are dis­ap­point­ing in as far as I don’t be­lieve them to be real. While I might see some sim­i­lar­i­ties to my own per­son­al­ity, I don’t feel as though I fully live up to the char­ac­ter de­scrip­tion. What’s more, the quiz re­sults never fully cap­ture who I am. And how could they? I’ve only an­swered a hand­ful of ques­tions – and many of these re­quire choos­ing the best an­swer out of a bad bunch.

Shake­speare’s per­son­al­ity test: chas­ing your shadow

Per­haps Shake­speare shows us some­thing when the only re­sponse Lear gets to his ques­tion about his iden­tity is “Lear’s shadow.” Shake­speare re­alised what we some­times fail to see: that ask­ing other people to de­fine us ac­tu­ally di­min­ishes us – we be­come shad­ows of our real selves. Ten ques­tions on a web­site that take me less than ten min­utes to an­swer can no more tell me who I am than the stranger I’ve made po­lite small talk with for a ten-minute train jour­ney. In our tech­no­log­i­cally-driven pur­suit of our­selves, we di­lute our true iden­ti­ties. Psy­chol­o­gist Mel Schwartz cap­tures this per­fectly when he writes, “The irony is that the more you seek to iden­tify who you are, the more frag­ile you are likely to feel about yourself”. He continues, “Our iden­tity should be seen as an on­go­ing process. Rather than a static snapshot, we should em­brace a flow­ing sense of self, whereby we are per­pet­u­ally re-fram­ing, re-or­gan­is­ing, re-think­ing and re-con­sid­er­ing our­selves. How dif­fer­ent would life be if rather than ask­ing “who am I?”, we con­tem­plated how we’d like to en­gage life?” In ask­ing the ques­tion “who am I?” we frus­trate our­selves by try­ing to con­dense our whole na­ture and ex­is­tence into a sin­gle phrase. It is far bet­ter to un­der­stand that our sense of self is not a fixed iden­tity that is ripe for def­i­ni­tion by dif­fer­ent quizzes, but is some­thing that evolves and de­vel­ops over time and, with dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences, al­lows us to feel com­fort­able with the process of self­dis­cov­ery. Or as Krauss Whit­bourne says, “It’s healthy to keep ex­plor­ing your val­ues, roles, and sense of self re­gard­less of your age”. How­ever you choose to do this, don’t start on Face­book.

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